Tag Archives: Flowers

Second nature

‘You know that medium sized bird, all black, with an orange beak. What’s it called again?’ I asked Mr School Friend last summer. The reason I asked was I’d noticed we had several in our new garden, and I realised I’d forgotten the name, and Mr SF is the man to go to. Not a linguist, he will still be able to tell you bird names in Swedish, English and Latin. So he told me, and it was obvious. I knew that. I just forgot.

Thinking back to my childhood, I knew quite a few birds, and flowers, and other nature things. I like to think it’s because my brain was less choc-a-bloc with the rubbish I’ve since put in there, and perhaps that being shorter, a child is sort of closer to nature, and will notice it more.

Swedes seem to be particularly nature-minded, considering most of us are town dwellers. Like most children, I went to Mulleskolan. That was a kind of ‘evening class’ for primary school children, which took place in some woods, after school, probably once a week. A leader went round with us and taught us nature stuff, and each week we had a surprise visit from a creature called Skogsmulle, who would tell us more. (These days the most shocking aspect of it is that the seven-year-old me crossed town on my own, to get to the woods. We all did.)

OK, so Mulleskolan taught me about nature. But I probably knew some birds and flowers before then. Must have got the names from an adult. Maybe mother-of-witch, or the landlord’s children or an aunt? Whatever, I knew them. And when I learned to read and write I could read and write them. I could probably look them up in a junior dictionary.

That’s why I was so struck at the weekend, when reading Robert Macfarlane’s Guardian article about bluebells giving way to broadband in children’s dictionaries. The whole article is interesting, but it deals primarily with regional words for very specific things. But going back to the children who can no longer look up bluebells, I was thinking that you can only look up the spelling of this word, if you know the concept in the first place.

I wonder how much parents teach their children these days? Looking at myself, I’m painfully aware of having done far too little of this kind of thing. Bilingualism didn’t make it any easier, but still. I’d obviously forgotten black birds with orange beaks, and I no longer looked so much at nature in any detail. So, it stands to reason I didn’t teach Offspring a lot. And now, I don’t actually know what they know.

(I do know that age three, Son had very little idea of what a pussy was – as used by the staff at the local hospital when testing his eyesight – because I had always said cat or katt.)

The Great Big Green Book I reviewed yesterday shows us that we need to look after nature, if we want to survive. That means we need to know about the things we encounter, and it will be very hard to talk about keeping alive or saving some species we don’t even have a word or name for. We probably need to be more specific than saying tree or flower.

Who will teach today’s children? Do their parents have the knowledge, or do they leave it to teachers? Do they even know? Maybe they don’t, unless their parents made a point of telling them about nature.

(It was koltrast. Common blackbird. Turdus merula. And I need to point out it was the Swedish I’d forgotten… Which makes sense, because I am no longer surrounded by Swedish speakers, and when I do see people, I tend not to talk about birds so much. Unless needing Mr SF’s help.)

I can do bluebells. I recognise a British one. I also know that the Swedish for bluebell is blåklocka, which I also recognise. Because it is a different flower from the bluebell. It is a harebell. Which, having consulted my dear old friend Wikipedia, seems to be called bluebell in Scotland. I have come full circle. (Engelsk klockhyacint is what Swedes call the bluebell when it is not a blåklocka, or harebell.)

End of lesson.

Floral farewells

After writing what I did about gifts and flowers I was remembering the flowers Mother-of-witch received every June. A teacher, she was generally also a form teacher, and as such would be given flowers at the end of the school year. Lovely flowers, which we used to enjoy for about 24 hours, as we packed to go away for the summer.

And that was that.

But at least the Swedish way is to club together and buy a gift and flowers from the whole form. It’s the British teachers staggering home with 20 bouquets and 15 boxes of chocolate and assorted other things that I feel for. What if they need to go away?

I once worked at a lovely post office in central Gothenburg. I had hated it to begin with, but over time I grew to love it, so when the day came to leave (I was transferring to a new district, of my own choice) I was sad. They gave me a ceramic bowl, which I have only managed to break very slightly. It’s still with me. Apart from the chip by the glued-back-on rim.

They, too, gave me flowers. Tulips. I was moving the next day, so didn’t think the flowers would be able to come along. I put them in a vase in the breakroom for the time being. They looked lovely.

Until they didn’t look quite so lovely. They began drooping at an alarming speed. Because of the move I was philosophical about it.

I was eating my lunch when the caretaker came in. He asked if they’d given me any flowers. I said yes, and pointed to the terminal tulips. The poor man was shocked at how they were treating me, but I pointed out why I felt it was perfectly OK. We sat companionably, staring at the dreadful tulips until the ridiculousness of the situation hit us, and we howled with laughter.

As we sat there, gasping for breath, someone else came in, saw the flowers and exploded in fury over the lack of floral quality, and said I had to complain, but we just laughed until we cried.

That was one of the best exits I have ever made from anywhere. I think of those tulips, and I cry and I laugh and I miss the people I worked with.

(And I am still pondering why you need to know all this. There is plenty more material from this particular post office.)